Against the odds, Edinburgh held on with 14 men to claim a vital 23-19 victory over the Dragons at a rain-soaked Rodney Parade.
Against the odds, Edinburgh held on with 14 men to claim a vital 23-19 victory over the Dragons at a rain-soaked Rodney Parade on Thursday – their first away win under Alan Solomons.
This encounter was far from a classic, dominated by errors and bouts of back-and-forth kicking. The visitors scored two tries to one, as Willem Nel and Matt Scott crossed the line either side of half-time, and Ross Wardle gave the Dragons hope of a late comeback in the final ten minutes.
The hosts got off the mark first, Jason Tovey bagging a brace of penalties as Ross Ford foolishly strayed offside at a maul, and Nel infringed at the scrum minutes later. Edinburgh full-back Jack Cuthbert replied with one of his own.
The tighthead, South African-born but committed to playing for Scotland on fulfilling the requisite three years' residency in 2015, made amends on the stroke of half-time. A fine midfield break from Andries Strauss brought the visitors to within a metre of the home line, and Nel burrowed over the top of the ruck to ground in front of Leo Colgan. Believe it or not, that score was the prop's fourth of the season; Cuthbert converted for a four-point lead.
Frustratingly for Edinburgh, second-row Izak van der Westhuizen gave away a penalty almost straight from the restart, allowing Tovey to cut the gap to one as Colgan blew for the break.
Though Nel's exploits in the loose were to be hailed, he was struggling to get to grips with the scrummaging duties, with he and Pat Price warned on numerous occasions by the Irish referee. It was from another collapse that Tovey regained the lead for the Dragons seven minutes into the second period.
It was to prove short-lived, however, as a smart inside ball on the home 22 from Harry Leonard allowed Scott to dance his way past some poor attempted tackles, perhaps aided by Colgan's own presence in the defensive line, to head under the uprights unchallenged. TMO Derek Bevan confirmed the try, and Cuthbert added the extras.
A monstrous Edinburgh drive in the scrum handed Cuthbert his second penalty of the evening, crucially taking the gap beyond seven points, before kicking three more points from the touchline with ten minutes to go.
That should wrapped things up for the visitors, leading by eleven points as the clock ticked down. But Edinburgh's typically Scottish propensity to shoot themselves in the foot almost cost them.
Van der Westhuizen collapsed a Dragons maul making good progress in the away 22, and Colgan immediately went to his pocket. From the phases that followed, Wardle crashed over from close range, and Tovey converted, cutting the gap to four.
Now, the pressure was on. A restless home crowd expected their team to deliver, and when Leonard, covering a kick through, was driven back over his own line, the signs were ominous.
A series of scrums followed – eight men versus seven. Colgan twice penalised the Edinburgh front row, with a penalty try seemingly inevitable.
But with chips well and truly down, Nel and co rallied. They held the home drive firm, and as the set-piece spun around beyond ninety degrees, the Irishman had had enough, calling time on a final ten minutes that were far more pulsating than Solomons would have liked.
Pens: Tovey 4
Tries: Nel, Scott
Cons: Cuthbert 2
Pens: Cuthbert 3
Yellow card: Van der Westhuizen (collapsing maul)
Dragons: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Pat Leach, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Lewis Evans, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Andrew Coombs (c), 3 Duncan Bell, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Pat Price
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Bruce Douglas, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Jevon Groves, 21 Wayne Evans, 22 Ross Wardle, 23 Will Harries.
Edinburgh: 15 Carl Bezuidenhout, 14 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Harry Leonard, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Dave Denton, 7 Cornell du Preez, 6 Mike Coman (c), 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Al Dickinson
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Wicus Blaauw, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Roddy Grant, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Carl Bezuidenhout, 23 Sam Beard.
Referee: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Greg Morgan (Wales)
TMO: Derek Bevan (Wales)